I was born in 1950 and brought up in Govan in the Moorepark housing estate or the Wine Alley, as it was commonly known. It was regarded at the time as perhaps the worst slum in Britain, and the people who lived there were treated like vermin by the authorities whom we treated likewise. It was a ‘them and us’ attitude that persisted right up until the Wine Alley was demolished in the late 1990’s. My mother and grandfather raised me alongside my two sisters and three brothers and various in-laws who moved in and out of the home through the years. I remember at one time there were thirteen of us staying in the house including the lassie across the street who came to stay for a night and more or less remained there for about five years.
We lived in a low-down coal-fire heated home at 9 Lettoch Street and we only ever moved once and that was to the house directly above us. Although the scheme had a bad reputation for crime, drinking and violence, as a child I never felt unsafe or ‘deprived’ in any way and knew only kindness from my family, friends, relatives and neighbours. Although we were all poor, I knew that I could go to any door, ask for a piece, and get it. The first ‘trade’ I learnt was stealing and gambling yet it seemed normal to all of us as children. Any profits went into the family home and we knew that we would get in return our Saturday matinee money and a sweety. Three times during my young life I was sent away to residential schools for being ‘undernourished’ while just before my 14th birthday I was put away in an approved school (in 1963) for a large number of burglaries. I spent 18 months there before being released on a three-year parole where I took a job in the local Cleansing Department as a ‘midgy-man’. This was a very hard job physically where we would carry a wicker basket (full of ashes, etc.) on our backs to the midden motor outside the closes or houses where we worked. It was just before I packed in this job that I met Sean Darner when he came to our house to some of the family in 1974. As a university sociologist,
he had come to live in Wine Alley to see for himself why it seemed to be such a horrible place to outsiders. I remember that when he told me that he had studied at university and that what he was now doing was his ‘job’ I laughed at his ‘education’ and his ‘job’. I considered that I did a ‘real’ job and that what he did for a living was nonsense.
Much later, after years of drink and drugs abuse, I thought about all the time I had wasted and I realised that if I was going to seriously change my life than I had to reeducate myself into a new way of thinking
– and education and learning came into my thoughts. So, at the age of 46 I started three years of studies with projects that involved Govan Initiative and Glasgow University until I was finally accepted as a full-time student at Glasgow. During my first year studying sociology I came across Damer again in the form of a book that he had written about poverty and deprivation in the Wine Alley but put it to the back of my mind. It never surfaced again until Lil Feeney came looking for me (who I had known from Govan Initiative) and asked me if I would be interested in helping to write a Report on poverty and deprivation (along with herself and Brian) – inspired by Darner’s book on the same theme. I agreed and the result is the Report, which you now have today which is meant for the October 17th World Poverty Day.
Wine Alley Revisited
Reflecting on Crime and Punishment